In a high arc: How does the artillery aim and hit?

In a high arc
How does the artillery aim and hit?

By Holger Preiss

With regard to the war in Ukraine, there is always talk of artillery, howitzers or simply long-barreled weapons. Their projectiles cover distances of 10 to 50 kilometers to fight the Russian attackers. But how does the so-called barrel artillery aim and hit?

The use of long-barreled weapons such as howitzers or self-propelled howitzers plays an enormous role in Ukraine’s defense against the Russian attackers. But why is it like that? What role do these weapon systems play in modern war? And how can it be that the projectiles can still hit over distances of up to 50 kilometers?

The history of artillery stretches far back into the history of warfare.

(Photo: dpa)

Artillery has its origins in ancient times. The invention of slingshots made it possible to fire heavy chunks of rock at attackers from distances previously unthinkable. With the invention of gunpowder, a type of weapon developed in the final phase of the Hundred Years’ War (1337 to 1453) that could have a significant impact on the outcome of a military conflict. But compared to today, the distances that were covered by the projectiles were manageable. The propellant charge carried the grenade only 100 to 1000 meters. Individual hits were more of a coincidence due to the lack of precision. In principle, it was about the surface effect.

The Deep Battle

Even today, the artillery weapons are there to support the combat troops. With their so-called heavyweight weapons, they enable massive fire support and, due to their enormous range, are suitable for carrying the fight into the depths of the enemy. There, deployment routes, reserves, supply systems or command centers are smashed or at least their function is significantly hampered. But the greater the range, the more inaccurate the hit pattern becomes. Even today, so-called barrel artillery hits with conventional ammunition are rather rare. And this despite the fact that the technical possibilities for calculating the trajectory and all the parameters that influence it are constantly improving.


A modern data analysis ensures that the shots of the barrel artillery are more accurate.

(Photo: dpa)

In order to increase the hit accuracy, meticulous military target reconnaissance is required. A distinction is made here between ground-based and airborne reconnaissance systems. The former are observation squads with their optical reconnaissance means. These include reconnaissance and trajectory radar as well as battlefield radar devices or light measurement and sound measurement systems. There are also airborne reconnaissance systems such as reconnaissance drones and small aircraft. The images collected on these routes, the measured distances or the position determination of the target by navigation systems and GPS all go into the installation of the barrel artillery. Data such as wind strength or temperature, which can influence the trajectory and are reported by the weather sensors, are also important for target accuracy.

Target dates are calculated

In modern artillery systems, the data is now evaluated by a fire control computer. As a rule, these are now freely programmable digital computers whose calculations also include the earth’s rotation, for example. In detail, a fire control officer enters the target and gun coordinates into the computer, as well as the weather reports and the powder temperature of the propellant charge. From all this data, the system calculates a special firing order for each individual piece of artillery.


Distances of 10 to 50 kilometers are fought with precise vertical fire.

(Photo: dpa)

After firing, reconnaissance measures are used to determine how accurate and with what effect the grenades hit. The larger the distances that are covered by the archery weapon, the less precise the dispersion becomes for meteorological and physical reasons. For this reason, enemy firing positions are fought at a medium distance of 10 to 50 kilometers with precise vertical fire. In order to avoid possible counter-fire, it makes sense for the artillery to change positions after each shot is fired. Because the opponent works with similar weapons and technical aids. In this respect, all the rules mentioned here for artillery also apply the other way around.

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